Monday, October 27, 2008

One Sick "Mother"

Italian horror director Dario Argento is an acquired taste. Sure, the guy's a legend: "Suspiria" (1977) is hailed as a classic and all of his films are respected for their elegant visuals and freakish scares. But truth be told, watching an Argento film can be a trying affair. There's the bad dubbing. The occasionally flat acting. The incomprehensible plots-- his movies are beautiful and eerie, to be sure, but you may find yourself wondering "What exactly is this about again?" Which makes "Mother of Tears," the long awaited final chapter in the "three mothers" trilogy that began with "Suspiria" and continued with 1980's "Inferno," something of a pleasant surprise. Critics have complained that this movie lacks the bold colors and artful visual aesthetic Argento's known for. But what "Mother of Tears" lacks in those departments it more than makes up for in coherence and naturalism, along with a healthy dose of indelibly gory images. Argento's daughter, the beautiful and talented Asia, stars as Sarah, a young woman who finds out that she alone can stop the return of the last of the witches-- the titular Mother of Tears. Spurned on by the ghost of her "white witch" mother, Asia must unravel the mystery and use her new-found powers to vanquish this evil hag. The dialogue scenes are much more realistic and lively than in previous Argento movies, and the movie as a whole is much more streamlined and easy to follow. But it certainly doesn't skimp on the shocks. As the Mother rises, attracting hordes of creepy Eurotrash witches, anarchy breaks out throughout Rome. Scenes of rioting people and even a mother tossing her baby into a river are suitably unnerving. But they're nothing compared to the bloody kills perpetrated by the film's demons and witches: gouged out eyes, intestinal strangulations, and more are not for the faint of heart. And don't even get me started on the creepy monkey! (Don't ask, just watch and see for yourself.) While the finale left me somewhat underwhelmed-- I was hoping for more of an empowered climax for Sarah-- on the whole I enjoyed this scary and polished effort from Italy's master of the macabre. At nearly 70 years old, Argento is showing no signs of stopping as he enhances his legacy ever more.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Queers for Fears

Until recently, horror movies and gays weren’t seen as very compatible—despite the fact that an inordinate number of gay men I know are rabid fans. (And you all know yours truly is certainly one of them.) But the list of notable gays in horror film goes beyond fringe films like Hellbent to encompass men who’ve contributed to some of cinema’s greatest screamers. Here's my run-down, originally written for Next Magazine. (You can read my piece on the hottest men in horror in next week's issue.)

James Whale—Back in the very early days of horror, James Whale created not one but two landmarks: Frankenstein and its campier, entertaining sequel The Bride of Frankenstein. Whale worked to inject subtext into the films, which are, after all, about a misunderstood and persecuted outsider. The director was memorably portrayed by openly gay Sir Ian McKellan in Gods and Monsters, a fictionalized account of Whale’s final days.

Vincent Price—An accomplished stage actor and gourmand, the regal Price will forever be associated with horror after appearing in scores of macabre movies. Price was an effective presence in films ranging from Hammer Horror classics like Masque of the Red Death to the gimmicky romps of William Castle. Although Price’s homosexuality was never confirmed, it was a source of intense speculation, and his campy performances and passion for the finer things in life have made him something of a gay icon.

Tony Perkins—The ultimate mama’s boy, Psycho’s Norman Bates, was portrayed by a man just as troubled by his own “dark side.” Perkins had been a teen heart throb and a Tony-nominated actor before taking on the role that would define (and somewhat derail) his career. Looking back at Hitchcock’s classic, we can see subtle moments suggesting Norman was, if not one of us, then certainly a repressed kindred spirit.

Clive Barker—Prolific horror/fantasy novelist Barker created an unforgettable screen monster with Pinhead, the demonic villain in the classic Hellraiser. This S&M inspired baddie took whips and chains waaay beyond pleasure into the realm of horrifying pain. Barker went on to produce Gods and Monsters and has seen many more of his novels adapted for the screen.

Don Mancini—The writer behind Child’s Play resurrected his wise-cracking killer doll, Chucky, with two increasingly queer sequel spoofs: Bride of Chucky, starring Jennifer Tilly and a then-unknown Katherine Heigl, and Seed of Chucky, with a sexually confused, Ed Wood-inspired character named Glen/Glenda. Bride of Chucky also features a likable gay character and a man candy lead (soap actor Nick Stabile). Let’s just say my tape of Bride of Chucky is a little worn around the Stabile’s gratuitous shirtless car wash scene.

Kevin Williamson—The man who revitalized the horror genre with Scream explored gayness more overtly on his groundbreaking soap Dawson’s Creek, but some viewers picked up on subtext in his slasher satire, analyzing the close relationship between killers Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and Stu (Matthew Lillard). (This element was overtly spoofed in the homophobic Scream take-off Scary Movie.) Meanwhile, we have Williamson to thank for introducing us to hunks like Ryan Phillippe (I Know What You Did Last Summer), Josh Hartnett (Halloween: H20), and Milo Ventimiglia (Cursed).

David DeCoteau—I feel almost ashamed to mention him in the same breath as legends like Tony Perkins and Clive Barker, but no run down of horror queers would be complete without mentioning DeCoteau. He’s transformed gaysploitation horror into, if not an art, then into a profitable formula. Straight-to-video cheapies like The Brotherhood, Voodoo Academy, and Leaches transform B-horror conventions into an excuse to put boys in their altogether instead of girls. DeCoteau certainly has a knack for casting quality eye candy: The Brotherhood 2’s Sean Farris went on to star in this year’s homoerotic ultimate fighting hit Never Back Down.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

When Good Cakes Go Reeeeeally Bad

I have recently found what just may be the most awesomely awesome blog ever: Cake Wrecks! (You can visit it in my Links section; I gave it coveted "right under Ashley's blog" status.) The concept is simple (but wonderful): a gallery of ill-conceived, misshapen, or just plain awful cakes. Some are well-crafted, yet undeniably creepy. (Who wants to eat the eerily realistic dead puppy? No one?) Some are laughably bungled, like the girl whose friends asked for a black high heel and instead got a black high... hill. (I hear those are really popular with the 18-24 set.) And then there are those that look even more horrendous when you see what they were modeled after. Above top, the detailed rendering of a dog the customer wanted, and below... what they got. (Don't you just hate it when Fido melts?) Now go on and check it out!